Learning to Read at a Higher Level
February 6, 2015 8:22 AM   Subscribe

I apologize if this question may seem silly, but I read a lot and I notice that I don't recall what I've read very well. My usual technique for reading clinical books is that I highlight what I think is important and then I go back and take notes on what I have highlighted. I can definitely highlight too much and it makes going back very time consuming. Is there a better way of going through a book and taking notes on it? It seems like my old method is not working very well.

I think the frustrating aspect of all of this is that my recognition is okay but my recall is not. I can go re-read a book that I have read and remember some of the information but if someone were to ask me to write a brief summary I would have a hard time without looking at the book. I'm not sure whether I have always used the incorrect method when it comes to reading and now it is time for me to learn how to do this properly? What methods do others use to read something that is technical so that they can understand it to a high degree and then be able to teach it to others? Any suggestions or advice would be greatly appreciated.
posted by nidora to Education (7 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I would also add that perhaps I am reading too passively and not asking enough questions while I read. Does metacognition come into play when one is reading something?
posted by nidora at 8:27 AM on February 6, 2015

Here's a summary of a study evaluating techniques for learning, especially from reading. Highlighting doesn't work. The main idea is to test yourself; see the article for details (as I just skimmed it and don't actually remember what it said...).
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 8:30 AM on February 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

If you're reading textbooks and taking notes, I recommend outlining. Go to your book's table of contents and create a rough outline from that. You can omit what's not covered in your course or what you know already. You can also omit detailed headings and sub-headings if you're just expected to have a general knowledge of a particular topic. Then when you're reading, fill in your outline with what's important rather than highlighting it in the text.

You can then distill this outline down further and further as you study and learn the contents of it. Finally, right before the exam, hopefully you're right back to an outline that looks like your original table of contents, except you've memorized or learned what goes under each topic.
posted by resurrexit at 8:33 AM on February 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

I read too quickly, which is fine when I'm just reading for pleasure, but I have to force myself to slow down for technical reading. Typically I take very brief notes as I read, always phrased in my own words. If I'm alone, sometimes I explain the content to myself out loud, or if I'm with someone else and they're amenable, I explain it to them.
posted by three_red_balloons at 8:34 AM on February 6, 2015

Typically I take very brief notes as I read, always phrased in my own words.

Yes. If you do my outline technique, always force yourself to write concepts or data in your own words. My method was to do so in as few words as possible, preferably no longer than one line of typed text.
posted by resurrexit at 8:36 AM on February 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Focused attention strengthens memory at the encoding stage. Maybe you're scanning and highlighting before you've really registered the content? Try putting the highlighter down and reading 1-2 paragraphs, and then summarizing them in notes in the margin before highlighting key text, and then carrying on with the next 1-2 paragraphs. If there are obvious sections under sub-headings, use them to structure your chunking. When you're reading, try to approach the text in the spirit of regular reading, like you'd read a novel, say, and not "study reading", if you know what I mean - don't hunt and peck for facts, read whole sentences, and let them sink in.

That's been my method for courses with exams, and I've done pretty well with it. The margin notes help me absorb things as I'm reading. (I almost never find myself rereading my notes, but I know they're doing something because the information appears at the right time. If I don't take the notes, things are a little fuzzier). The highlighting guides my eye when I'm scanning for exam review.

(Are you a normal student, though, or e.g. a med or engineering student? If you have a lot of volume to cover and a need to retain [many] precise details of [a lot of] hard facts, it may help to use a different method [as well or instead of that], like flashcards and visual aids, when you review.)

*Also, wrt highlighting: I use colour coding - blue for the key ideas of the overall argument; green for the main counterarguments; pink for the thesis of a paragraph; orange for secondary points; yellow for important details.
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:15 AM on February 6, 2015 [3 favorites]

Tthe problem is not just yours alone. People generally suck at recall and excel at recognition. If you want to be good at recalling something then you must practice recalling it. Expanded rehearsal is the technique I used during my undergraduate studies.
posted by srboisvert at 10:50 AM on February 6, 2015

« Older Looking for a very specific birthday present   |   On A Wet, BlackBerry Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.